The History of The Kente Cloth
For many centuries, countries have incorporated textiles as a means of identity, and this is the story of the Kente cloth fabric of Ghana. Kente is not just any cloth. It is something the Akan people of Ghana have deeply rooted and steeped every colour and pattern of the kente cloth into their rich history and fascinating culture. Its origin dates back to the Ashanti (also known as the Asante) people of Ghana in the 12th century, and as you will see the Kente fabric holds so much significance, acceptance, and distinct qualities that make it identifiable globally wherever people wear it.
The Kente fabric
Kente because of its intricate handwoven designs derived its name from the Akan word “Kenten” meaning “basket”. As folklore has it, Kente was birthed out of the fascination when two friends who on a hunting trip, who came across spiders spinning webs and they thought to recreate the intricate design using fabric.
Contrary to its popular and widespread use now, the Kente cloth originally was only worn by the royal kings, queens nobility and chiefs- especially during special occasions and ceremonies. It would require each new king to consult with the master weavers to create a distinct design that had to be made with care because they would associate the design of the cloth with a particular King’s reign and their tenure. History informs us that the original weavers only made the early Kente fabric solely in black and white colours. The unique fabric has now evolved to spot distinct patterns and bright colourful colours, each colour combination holding a significant meaning. Kente fabric at its inception was distinct in style, some combined with the use of symbols that represent adages or other common sayings amongst the Akan people, and it became a symbol to represent philosophy, ethics, history, values and cultural heritage of the people.
A sign of affluence and acceptance
The Akans used kente to denote affluence in society. They made early versions of kente with extremely expensive and luxurious fabrics, and it was an identity for the wealthy. Over the years, the Kente fabric has been used to mean different things ranging from offering general aesthetic appeal to its use at celebrations, holidays and of course, as an acceptance of and solidarity with the African culture by non-Africans.
Art occurs in different forms, and weaving is one of the earliest forms of art recorded in the world. Its dominance in the African sphere and culture dates to antiquity and has been used to create some of the most intricate patterns the world has ever seen.
Traditionally before societies moved to accepting the more modern way of making prints on fabrics, the Kente cloth was predominantly hand-woven. Experienced master hand-weavers would create the cloth into lengthy 4 inch wide panels that are then joined to make outfits. In the native Akan language, they refer to the Kente cloth as nwentoma, meaning “woven cloth”. The towns of Bonaire, Sakora Wonoo, Ntonso, Safo and Adanwomase are noted for their authentic Kente weaving, and can be found in the Ashanti regions of Ghana.
In conclusion, undoubtedly the tradition of wearing the Kente fabric has grown beyond the borders it originated from. The designs and patterns no matter how much they have evolved over the years make it one of the distinct means of identification for the people of Ghana. Beyond the colours and amazing print, always remember that there is a deep history that holds so much meaning to the people of Ghana. Update your phone with a splash of African royalty and browse our new range of Kente print phone cases in homage to the Kente Cloth!